8 Tips for Day Hike Success with Little Adventurers

It’s adventure time! Grab your kids, make a plan and go! One of my favorite things to do is hike with my kids. I didn’t start hiking frequently with my daughter until she was a bit older, about 3 years old. That wait was unnecessary, my son was about a month old on his first hike. I knew better by then. Being ready and knowing what to expect will definitely assist in your adventures.

1. Plan Ahead

Spontaneity is great! But flying by the seat of your pants becomes less practical with a little one on your hip. Planning your hike ahead of time is a great way to save some frustration on the trail. Study that map, know your route and find any shortcuts that can bring you back to the vehicle if you need a quicker exit.

Make sure that you have all of the supplies that you’ll need and some extras left in the car for your return. Hiking with the little ones is great, as long as you’re prepared.

2. Short & Sweet

I know this has been mentioned in previous posts, but short and sweet is the way to go. If you’re planning on spending the whole day at a state park, have at it, but make sure that hike isn’t a solid 5 hour chunk. Break it up, do smaller hikes or break your big one into pieces so your little ones can enjoy themselves too. It might be a good idea to have a few spots picked out that might be of interest for your little guy/gal. For example; a beach or nature center. Really a good place to stretch their legs and get hands on is good. Our favorites are a rivers edge or rocky beach, Killian loves to toss rocks in the water.

3. Hit the Highlights First

Best for last, right? Maybe not, it would be a real bummer to miss out on a great bit of adventure because you were trying to hold out for a big finale. Sometimes when those little adventurers are done, they are DONE! It’s not a huge deal to leave before you planned if you’ve already completed the best part of your day. Hit those highlights early, it’s way less disappointing to leave early if the highlight is out of the way. Or you’ll end up pushing farther and get a really bad experience, unable to enjoy your destination once you’ve reached it.

Bonus: Getting hot spots out of the way early will also help you beat any crowds at a well known attraction.

4. Smell the Roses

Or pine trees, or cacti, whatever. Smell something along the way. The point is: you are not in a race. If your little adventurer wants to walk, let them walk, if they want to be carried, carry them. The goal of bringing them out there is so they can learn to appreciate nature, right? So let them appreciate it.

I know acting interested in the 187th rock they’ve shown you can get old, but remember that they haven’t seen as many rocks as you. That rock is fascinating! And your interest might mean the world to them. If there is something interesting, like a giant hole, stop to check it out!

5. Carriers

I didn’t realize how convenient a child carrier could be until we had one ourselves. We didn’t have a child carrier or an all-terrain stroller with our first child. After our son was born, we found an infant carrier at a garage sale and later invested in a backpack toddler carrier. It was one of the greatest purchases we made regarding adventure gear. We have really gotten our use out of it; local hikes, walks around town, up a mountain in Colorado, and numerous state parks here in Minnesota.

As far as styles and brands go. I believe it’s all personal preference. You can go super light weight and just carry your munchkin or you can find one with a cargo bag underneath. I opted to go for a pack with space for gear and water bottles. It actually has an insulated compartment for breast milk. I don’t breast feed, but if I did that would be super convenient to have.

**Tip: Get your toddler used to the backpack carrier prior to longer hikes. Do a couple 1 to 2 mile treks before going for the long haul. Starting out with a five mile hike can really deter them from wanting to ride again. You’ll want your little one so comfortable in their carrier that they can sleep in it.

6. Snacks & Water

Snacks, snacks, and more snacks! And some water. No, lots of water. This is key! It’s always a good idea to pack more snacks than you think you’ll need. Here are some things to keep in mind when packing snacks:

  • Easy- You don’t want your snacks to require any prep while on the trail.
  • Nonperishable- Unless you plan on lugging a cooler around, keep it to snacks that require no refrigeration.
  • Single servings- Individually packed snacks are really convenient and makes it easier to ration and bring a variety.
  • Enjoyable- I will not bring a snack that my child has not shown interest in prior to our excursion. On the trail is not the place to test out a new snack and find that they don’t like it.
  • Enough- When packing up your snacks, bring extra! Your little adventurer is going to be burning more calories than normal, they’re going to get hungry.
  • Secret Stash- Keep a really high quality reward stashed away for a toddler emergency.

Distribute snacks throughout your hike, remember to ration without being stingy, that’s why we pack extra. I try to get at least a couple miles in before bringing out the snacks, that way my little man isn’t trying to eat the WHOLE time. You can also use snacks as rewards for making it to certain marker, i.e. the next bench, that big rock up ahead. Food is a great motivator and older toddlers like to feel like they’ve “earned” something.

Remember that secret stash? Best time that I’ve found to bring that out is when you are either needing them to get into or out of a child carrier. Our little guy, Killian, loves to do the hiking. I love that he loves it, but sometimes toddler legs are so slow that we are going to lose daylight. I will ask if he’d like an apple sauce and tell him that he needs to get in the carrier to eat it. This way, I can cover some ground while he snacks.

Your little adventurer might be the opposite, maybe they only get snacks when they’re out of the carrier to get them to burn some energy. Every little hiker is different, experiment and find what works best for you.

I know we all get excited about our snacks, but don’t forget about water. I like to bring a water bottle per person, we each have our own size. It’s also a good idea to leave some in the car for when you return. If you’re going on a long hike, bring extra and leave even more in your vehicle.


Now that we’ve covered snacks, let talk supplies. I like to pack light. Kids make that a little harder, but we’ve managed. There are some things that you need and some that are unnecessary but optional. Let’s start with the things you need first

Needed Supplies:

  • Diapers– Like we covered above, your little one will be consuming more than normal, pack extra diapers. I like to figure out how many diapers Killian goes through in the amount of time I expect to do our hike, and add 2.
  • Wipes– A small travel pack of wipes will do the trick.
  • First Aid Kit– I always bring a small first aid kit, just your basic stuff and a flashlight.
  • Dog Waste Bags– This sounds silly, but it’s a great idea for when you change diapers. I don’t like dirty diapers floating around in my pack. Put it in a dog poop bag and tie it to the back of the pack until you find a trash bin.

Optional Supplies

  • Changing Pad– Our backpack carrier came with a changing pad, I have yet to use it. It takes up valuable space and is more of a luxury than a necessity. If your little one is sensitive to being placed in the grass to be changes, bring it along.
  • Pacifier– Not all munchkins us a pacifier. We don’t typically bring one, we did however use one when hiking out of state. Killian was off his normal sleep schedule and a real crab, the pacifier helped to sooth him on our longer hikes. You might want to keep one stashed away if you’re going to be in a similar situation.
  • Toys– We do not bring toys on the trail. Killian has a special puppy at home that stays home, it’s not worth the risk of losing it. Another reason for leaving toys at home is so that your littles are checking out their surroundings instead of what they’ve brought with them. ** My exception to this is a pair of binoculars. Our 10 year old brings hers, and it’s so gosh darn cute when Killian uses his.

Unload Trash

Kids are messy. That’s a fact. Keeping tidy can relieve some stress along the way. While on the trail, if you happen upon a trash bin or visitor center, take advantage of it. I like to empty out any pockets or pouches. It’s the perfect opportunity to unload trash, dispose of a diaper, or change your little one even if they aren’t fully in need of one. Staying fresh helps to keep that mood high.

Preparing for your outing will change your experience. And it gets easier with every hike, you’ll learn what your little adventurer needs and what can be left at home. Once you’ve gone on a few hikes and gotten into the habit of packing what you need, it’s whole lot simpler. Not every hike will be perfect, but as parents, we aren’t shooting for perfection. We’re shooting for memories made and experiences shared.

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